The surest and quickest way for a Republican officeholder to kill his future is to dream up a tax increase. Once a rising star in the Grand Old Party, a shortlist contender as Mitt Romney's running mate and a twinkle in the eye of the Great Mentioner for 2016, Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia has disappeared from the speakers' lists at key conservative events, such as the Conservative Political Action Conference, which begins Thursday in Washington.
There's good reason for the snub. As a candidate in 2009, Mr. McDonnell promised that if elected, he wouldn't raise taxes. Working with insiders of both parties, however, Mr. McDonnell broke his word and brokered a deal with the Virginia General Assembly to pay for a sharp increase in mass-transit spending with a $6 billion tax increase -- the largest in the commonwealth's history. The governor's bill raised state sales taxes, car taxes, regional sales taxes, personal property taxes, vehicle taxes, vending machine taxes, heavy-equipment taxes, commercial taxes, hybrid-vehicle taxes, hotel taxes and diesel-fuel taxes. (Did he forget anything?) It's hard to see how a Democrat could have found more taxes to raise. In fact, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic contender to replace Mr. McDonnell, had nothing but praise for the deal.
In other critical areas, Mr. McDonnell has been tall on rhetoric, short on leadership. Throughout his 2009 campaign, Mr. McDonnell boldly declared he would make Virginia the "Energy Capital of the East Coast." An impressive slogan, but what has he actually achieved? He approved a 479-foot-tall offshore windmill last year, though private backing for the boondoggle fell through.
On the single largest opportunity for energy development under the state's control, the governor is missing in action. Virginia's antiquated moratorium on uranium mining prevents development of the largest untapped uranium deposit in the United States. The Coles Hill site includes the potential for 22 times more energy than all of Virginia's offshore-oil resources combined. Tapping the deposit promises more than 1,000 jobs, $5 billion in economic activity and hundreds of millions of dollars in new state and local tax revenue.
Yet Mr. McDonnell has sheepishly sat on the sidelines as the same old crowd of disgruntled environmentalists and "not in my backyard" bellyachers derailed the bipartisan effort to lift the mining moratorium. Absent leadership from the executive mansion, the legislation couldn't even get out of committee.
What this means is that Virginians will have fewer job opportunities and larger bills at the cash register and gas pump. Worst of all, the "transportation" projects being funded don't include any new freeway lane construction, which would actually relieve congestion. Instead, Mr. McDonnell has been pushing to convert every highway in the state into a toll road, imposing a form of double taxation. Wasteful projects that do nothing to reduce congestion, such as the $6 billion Metro rail line to Washington Dulles International Airport, will continue to dominate "transportation" funding.
Grass-roots Republicans yearn for leadership on issues, not insider deals. It's a pity that Mr. McDonnell couldn't live up to his considerable promise.
The Washington Times
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